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Outlaws’ sad saga adds to arena football’s failed Las Vegas history

Rob Campbell has an expensive souvenir from his experience with the Las Vegas Outlaws, one he wished he didn’t own.

Campbell, who owns Sportco Sporting Goods, has a set of black Outlaws home jerseys. The cost of the uniforms? Thirteen thousand dollars. And with the Arena Football League having folded the struggling franchise Sunday, Campbell knows he’s never going to get his money.

“They paid one invoice back in March. After that — nothing,” said Campbell, who withheld the uniforms from the team, forcing the Outlaws to wear white, both home and away this season. “We did a lot of last-minute work for them that we don’t normally do. And it wasn’t just the uniforms. There was equipment and other things they ordered. But all they did was keep stringing us along and we never got paid.”

Unpaid bills. Employees owed back wages. Ticket-holders not getting what they signed up for.

Sound familiar?

While the symptoms sound very much like the failed Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League from 2012, they belong to the AFL’s Outlaws, who were taken over by the league in mid-July after the ownership group led by rocker Vince Neil failed miserably to properly market and get people to come out to watch the expansion team.

The Outlaws barely lasted one season before being put out of their misery following their regular-season finale Saturday, a 51-34 loss to Spokane in front of just 4,114 at the Thomas & Mack Center, the vast majority who had gotten in for free.

Staffers who were let go are still owed money. Vendors such as Campbell who provided goods and services to the team have yet to get paid. And many of the 500 or so season-ticket holders never received the perks promised them, including a special edition Outlaws-Neil football jersey.

The players and head coach Aaron Garcia did get paid throughout the year. Members of Garcia’s coaching staff are still waiting for money owed them for services performed prior to the season. Same for the few staffers who finished out the season for the 5-12-1 team.

“I’ve been around some terrible hockey teams, but at least I got paid,” said assistant equipment manager Encil “Porky” Palmer, who claims he’s owed at least $2,000 by the Outlaws. “But this is worse. You go to the league and they don’t take your phone calls. The previous owners always said ‘We’ll pay you’ and they never did.

“The funny thing is they came to me and asked me to help them out. I didn’t come to them.”

Palmer said there’s about seven or eight ex-staffers who have filed a complaint against the team with the Department of Labor. It probably won’t help but at least it’s on the record that the team failed to meet its obligations to its employees.

For the vendors who supplied goods and services to the Outlaws, they too may be out of luck. Campbell said he contacted the league and was told there was nothing it could do as he sought to recover his $13,000.

“They said I can go after Vince Neil,” Campbell said. “But I’m not going to spend $20,000 to hire a lawyer to get back the $13,000 they owe me. That doesn’t make sense.”

Campbell said he should have learned his lesson when he did business with the Locomotives and he got stiffed to the tune of $2,800.

“You want to be supportive of the local teams,” he said. “But I have no respect for these guys whatsoever. So all I have is a bunch of uniforms that I have no use for and I’m out 13 grand to show for it.”

Robert Elliott owns Bright Cleaning Service and helped clean the team’s former office on Post Road and the trailers the Outlaws had. He had worked a deal he claims was worth $20,000 in cash and trade and he never saw any of the cash — approximately $700 a month for five months — plus advertisements in all the team’s programs. A small ad for his business did run in the opening-night program on March 30.

“It’s been so frustrating,” Elliott said. “It’s also been so disappointing. We were trying to help them out and we had been cleaning the office since March 1 and we never got paid.

“I went to the league and they said they’d pay me for June and July and I still haven’t gotten a check from anyone. So we stopped cleaning at the end of June since there wasn’t anyone still around.

“I sent two e-mails to the commissioner and I never heard back. I’m a small businessman. I was just trying to be supportive for the team and I love Motley Crue and thought it would be a fun way to connect with Vince. And this is how they show their appreciation?”

Bob Hewko, a member of the Outlaws’ ownership group who also served as the team’s general manager, said Monday they had identified two individuals earlier in the season to join them as partners and infuse the operation with working capital, but it never materialized.

“We thought we had a good investment and we’re still trying to save football in Las Vegas,” Hewko said.

AFL commissioner Scott Butera said the league is trying to sort through a lot of the ownership group’s financial issues and it may take longer than expected to make good on the money that’s owed.

“Anything that the old ownership dealt with is their responsibility,” Butera said. “We’re working with people trying to work things out. Out goal is that no one gets damaged.”

Butera wouldn’t say how much money was lost on the venture or if the team put up a performance bond. And if so, whether any of that money was used to pay the players’ and coaches’ salaries as well as any outstanding bills to finish the season.

“I can’t go into any of the financial details,” he said.

Hewko, who said he did not know the extent of the financial liabilities to the team, said he wasn’t sure if he and Neil still owned a football team after the league announced the Outlaws at ceased operations Sunday.

“I think that’s something the lawyers are going to have to sort out,” he said. “I’m sure there are people who are owed money but I don’t have a list of who they are.”

It’s hard to imagine the AFL being able to do business in Las Vegas if people are still owed money. Yet Butera insists that the city will support the sport with the right ownership group in place, even though the Outlaws are the third failed attempt at making a go of it in Las Vegas (the Sting moved to Anaheim, Calif., in 1996 after two seasons and the Gladiators moved to Cleveland in 2008 after five years).

How bad were things at times this season? Head coach Garcia had to go to the gas station prior to practice and buy ice so his players could receive proper treatment for their aches and bruises after the vendor that was delivering ice stopped coming after failing to be paid.

“It hasn’t been an ideal situation,” Garcia said. “But I really do believe it can work here if properly run. The guys who stuck it out really cared about this team and so did the coaches. We didn’t want to see it fail.”

Butera believes that despite three failed attempts to make it work, Las Vegas is still a good market for his league.

“I don’t think you can confuse a bad operator with a bad market,” he said. “If you look at what the Outlaws did, they didn’t maximize the opportunity to market themselves and sell sponsorships and merchandise and tickets.

“We’re looking to locate new ownership and I can tell you it’s probably going to take some time. But I believe with the right ownership group, it can have success in Las Vegas.”

But if the league can’t or won’t make good on the debts run up by Neil and the former owners, it’s not likely any future Arena Football League team could function in Las Vegas. What business would want to risk extending credit to the team given the past track record?

“If I were to ever do business with another pro football team, it would have to be cash up front,” Campbell said. “And even then I’d have to think long and hard about doing it.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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